Carry on Erupting - Frying Tonight! Musolini tomorrow!
The Last Days of Pompeii (witchcraft, love potions, madness, murder, ravening lions and an erupting volcano) was not surprisingly a favourite subject for the Kolossal as the pioneer Italian epics were called. In this version a chariot race is added for good measure.
Oh, and a gladiatorial combat.
and an elephant.
There had been a short version by Ambrosio in 1908 but there were two rival feature-length versions in 1913, one, directed by Mario Caserini for Ambrosio once more and this one co-directed by Del Colle and Vidali for Pasquali. They were in very direct competition, particularly it would seem for the US market. This version was due to have its première in Rome on 26 August 1913, so Ambrosio cunningly arranged a sneak preview of the other version in the US on 13 August (it premièred in Italy on the 24th).
This version is slightly different from the other two in that it is not based directly on the Bulwer Lytton novel but on the 1858 opera based on it by Giovanni Peruzzini called Jone, ossia L'ultimo giorno di Pompeii which introduced another character called Jone. In the original there are two women in love with Glaucus - Giulia and the blind slave girl Nidia; in this version there are three of them - Jone and Giulia and Nidia.
This quite frankly begins to border on the comic and it is not always easy to know how seriously the Kolossal took itself or intended that its audience should take it. Towards the end of this film the villain Arbaces accumulates an absurdly large number of hostages, all locked up in different parts of his house - the blind slave-girl, who, having unintentionally poisoned Glaucus, is now hopping around everywhere trying to save him, Jone (or is it Giulia) who has come to plead with him to save Glaucus but refused him the sexual favours he demanded and an elderly witness to the crime (for which Arbaces has framed Glaucus) who has been trying to blackmail him.
While all this happy crew is in one place, Glaucus (the beloved of all the women) is about to be dragged off to be devoured by lions in time-honoured fashion while - my favourite comic moment - his best friend is drowning his sorrows by quietly drinking a few bevvies of wine. Unfortunately too many bevvies because, when a slate is delivered
the slate-writing is all a bit comical too - that has been smuggled
out of Arbaces' house telling him how to rescue his friend, he is too pie-eyed even to read it and just falls asleep.
Luckily the crowd is gathering to see the spectacle and that wakes him up again. He finally reads the blessed thing and sets off to free all the various hostages (the best collection of ex-hostages to be found anywhere in the empire) and, provide he can reassemble them all in the right order, prove his friend's innocence, hopefully before he has been more than half eaten..
Life however is never quite as simple as that when there's a grumbling volcano in the background.....
One notices the great progress made by the supposed straight-arm Roman salute, something for which there is no historical evidence and, all that it had earlier appeared in neo-classical painting, was very largely popularised by these films. A young left-wing journalist called Benito (who signed himself, in French, "l'homme qui cherche") could take note.
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